Mayor expects jobs with transit plan
Local firms hope to capitalize on smaller construction contracts
The city hopes to attract more local companies to work on its $4 billion mass-transit system by creating smaller contracts, as opposed to larger, $100 million contracts that are typically awarded only to national and international firms.
At a workshop presented by the city for construction companies yesterday at the Neal Blaisdell Center, Mayor Mufi Hannemann emphasized the importance of the number of jobs mass transit would create that would help spur the slowing economy.
"This economy is starting to go south," Hannemann said in an interview. "I'm the eternal optimist, but what I don't see is alternatives to our sagging tourism industry. Fuel prices are going to continue to rise. ... To me this is the best news for the Hawaii economy. Over the next 12 to 15 years, we'll have steady employment, growing employment."
The 20-mile elevated mass-transit system running from Kapolei to Ala Moana is expected to create 11,000 jobs a year; of those, 4,700 are for construction. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late next year, with contracts to be awarded later this year or in early 2009.
"This will help the economy," Hannemann said. "It's not just about construction jobs. Construction jobs will start this going, but there's so many ancillary benefits ... that trickle down."
To help local companies capitalize on the system, the Hannemann administration will create multiple contracts, ranging from $20 million to $350 million.
In 1992 the city was ready to issue large contract awards that excluded many firms from bidding on its rail transit system when the City Council refused to spend local funds, killing the project.
"Local firms were left at the mercy of large companies whether to hire them," said Toru Hamayasu, the deputy transportation director. "That was a lesson learned from 1992."
Professionals within the industry said yesterday they have been waiting for the city's project to begin.
"We've been eyeing this project for about 10 years now," said James Fea, vice president of Systra USA, a New Jersey-based company that builds transit systems. "It's the talk of the industry. Everyone wants a piece of it."
"Locally, we don't have the resources to build the project," said Frank Medrano, principal of the locally owned company Construction Management Resources Inc. "These small contracts open up the opportunity for small businesses like us."
Hannemann acknowledged a group of residents attempting to stop the project. "I respect the democratic process," he said. "But what is their alternative? It's not HOT lanes, toll roads, underwater tunnels or expanded bus routes. They cannot replace rail."
Stop Rail Now, an anti-rail initiative, has collected 16,000 of the nearly 45,000 signatures it needs to propose an ordinance on the November ballot, saying, "Honolulu mass transit shall not include trains or rail."
Stop Rail Now has recently placed two full-page ads in the Star-Bulletin and an insert in MidWeek at a cost of $20,000, paid by donations and its core members of well-known, vocal opponents. Organizers say they hope this will bring them toward their goal by the Aug. 1 deadline.